Voice of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Monday, July 15, 2024

Genesis of Pashtuns, Pashto language and its dialects

Scholars of history and philology hold contradicting opinions concerning origin of Pashtuns as there is a dearth of authentic history regarding their genesis. A wide array of theories exists on the matter; some historians term Pashtuns one of the lost tribe of Bani Israel, few considers them Aryans and some even linked them to the gods and goddesses of Greek. However, the two most popular schools of thought are; either Pashtuns are the descendants of Bani Israel (Semitic theory) or they are Aryans.

According to Semitic theory, Taloot is the forefathers of Pashtuns. Taloot was originally from the family tree of Hazrat Yaqub (a.s) whose agnomen was Bani Israel. Taloot remained ruler of Bani Israel for approximately 47 years. Before going on his last battle, he appointed Hazrat Dawud (a.s) as his successor. Taloot alongwith his 10 sons subsequently died in the battle. After his death, Taloot two expecting wives gave birth to sons named Barkhiya and Armiya. Barkhiya and Armiya later looked after all the management and administration affairs in the kingdom of Hazrat Dawud (a.s). Barkhiya and Armiya had two sons Asif and Afghana. After the death of Hazrat Dawud (a.s), his son Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s) took over the kingdom of Bani Israel. Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s) appointed Asif as minister in his kingdom while entrusted Afghana with the responsibilities of commander in chief of his forces. After the death of Hazrat Sulaiman (a.s) and his successor Armiya, Bakht Nasr occupied Bani Israel. Bakht Nasr killed thousands of jews (Bani Israel) and force them to migrate towards different regions including the region now known Afghanistan (Ghor, Ghazni, Kabul) and Iran. Hence, Afghana descendants slowly and gradually became inhabitant of this land.

According to few historians, after Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w) migration to Madina, Hazrat khalid (r. a) a semitic by race, invited Afghna’s descendants of Ghor to accept Islam. In response to his invitation, a delegation of 72 people led by Qais visited Madina to embrace Islam. It is believed that Prophet Muhammad (saw) gave Qais the Isamic name Abdur Rashid and entitled him “Batan”. In Arabic, Batan refers to (hard wood) deck of ship which keeps it above the water surface. With the passage of time, Batan word morphed into Pathan. According to Ex Vice Principal and professor of Pashto literature at Edwards college, Dr. Yar Muhammad Maghmoom, this ideology in an organized manner was first presented by Mughal emperor Jahangir’s coutier khwaja Nematullah Harwi’s in his book “Tareekh khan Jahani o Makhzan e Afghani” in 1612. Khushal khan khatak in his famous book “Dastaar Nama” also advocated this ideology, one of his couplet in the book means that Pashtuns are beautiful as they are the descendants of Hazrat Yaqub (a.s).

Khushal khan khattak grandchild, Afzal khan khattak author of “Tareekh e Murassa”, Qazi Atta Ullah Khan author of “Tareekh e Pashtun” and some other orientals such as sir William Jonse and Alexender Burnse also supports the semitic theory.

However, this theory is strongly denied by some historians considering it flawed and based on literary stories. This group of historians is led by Prof Dr. Abdur Rahim, Aulf Kero and Prof. Abdul Hai. They claim that Pashtuns cannot be descendants of Hazrat Yaqub (a.s) as they have already been mentioned in the Rigveda (Book of Aryans) even before the arrival of Hazrat Yaqub (a.s).

As per this theory, Pashto is Aryan (Indo-Germanic) language also known as Indo-Aryan language. As per, Dr. Yar Muhammad Maghmoom, Indo-Germanic has been further divided into two branches i.e northern branch and southern branch. Northern branch of Indo-Germanic consists of Latin, Greek and other European languages while southern Indo-Germanic consists of Asian languages i.e Sanskrit, Zend, Awesta and Pashto. Grammatically, phonetically and verbally Pashto is very similar to Aryan language. Most of the Pashto words are derived from Aryan language. Different linguists and authors after critically analyzing Pashto, believes that due to its phonetical, verbal, grammatical and structural similarities with Awesta, Zend and Sanskrit, Pashto belongs to Aryan group of linguistics.

Researcher and historian Abdul Hai Habibi, while investigating the literary traces of Pashto, mentioned about inscribed lexicography of the Iranian King, Dar Yoush Kabir, also known as Dariush (516 B.C) which is very similar to Pashto. This theory claims that if Pashto language is originated from Indo-Aryan languages then Pashtun nation is also descendants of Aryans.

Pashto also transliterated Pakhto, Pushto or Pukhto is the native language of the indigenous Pashtun people who are found primarily between an area south of the Amu Darya in Afghanistan and west of the Indus River in Pakistan. Pashtu is spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as by the Pashtun diaspora around the world. According to Ethnologue, it is spoken by around 50 million people worldwide.

There are primarily two main dialects of the Pashtu language. Qandahari also commonly known as Khattak dialect or Southern dialect, being spoken in the Southern parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakhtun dominated areas of Baluchistan. Moreover, this parlance represents languages being spoken in the Southern Afghanistan. Qandahar, Ghazni, Quetta, Zhob, Waziristan, Banu, Lakimarwat, Karak and some places of Kohat is the main hub of this dialect. Kakar, Wazir, Mehsood, Marwat, Banusi, Khattak are the tribes that speaks Qandahari dialect.

The second is Yousafzai dialect which is also termed as Peshawari or northern dialect. Mardan, Swabi, Swat, Peshawar, kurrum, khyber, Der, Buner, Bajawar, Muhmmand, Kabul, Laghman, Logar and some places of kohat is the main Pashtun belt with Yusafzai dialect. Khalil, Muhmand, Afridi, Bangash, Orakzai, Yusafzai are the main tribes of these regions. These dialects can be differentiated phonetically by the sounds of [kh] and [sh]. This is the group of alphabets that sounds or pronounce differently in each dialect.

Qandahari accent

Yusafzai accent



























The study of Pashto phonetics and script is very interesting due to its variations and different flavors. Being the oldest language of the region, Pashto contains valuable vocabulary, terminologies, proverbs and folk tales dating back to thousands of years which shows its vastness and richness.

There has been a rapid expansion of writing in other modern genres which has forced innovation on the Pashto language and helped in creating many new words.

The origin of Pashto script is also shrouded in mystery as some of the historians denies its origination or linking with Iranian king Duarish. According to them, Pashto has always been written with a modified Arabic script. With the passage of time, the writing system of Pashto underwent some additional modifications that resulted in greater consistency. According to known Pashtu writers & poets Ajmal Khatak and Saad Ullah Jan Barq, Qazi Saif Ullah was the one who used Arabic script for Pashto and Ba Yazeed Ansari gave organized alphabetic form to Pashto alphabets. Later on, Pashto academy has also contributed some modifications in Pashto script. In this regard, a three-day symposium was conducted in 1990, in which a standardized Pashto script was finalized with the consent of all scholars and representatives. Modern Pashto alphabets has currently 44 letters.

Pashtu history is likely to remain a mystery as there are no documents or apparent proof which can testify its evolution. The philologists or historians are not on the same page and have their own competing theories and research, supported by arguments and evidences. Secondly, we cannot differentiate language from nation as adaptation of language is itself an evolutionary process. Like other languages of the world which referred to a nation the term Pashto/ Pukhto has evolved from various stages to the present form. The word Pashto, in terms of reference, could be attributed to the Pashtun tribe itself.

Despite the fact that the origin of Pashtuns and Pashto language is an enigma for some, Pashtuns have leave their mark in every walk of life. Rahman Baba(poet), Khushal Khan Khattak (warrior and poet), Ghani khan (philosopher), Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum Khan (educationist and politician) ,Major Yusaf Khalil (first martyr of Pakistan), Jansher khan (squash player), Nashanas (musician) are some of the names that are still alive through their imperishable work.

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